A Conversation with Roger Stone: An Assessment of his Legacy

Managing editor Marisa Gomez sat down with Roger Stone, after his talk at Fordham University, to discuss his political legacy, past controversies, and the future of politics in the U.S.

Marisa: Gomez: You’ve been involved in politics for almost 45 years now, correct?

Roger Stone: Yes.

Marisa: Why did you begin to participate in politics and why was it important to you?

Roger: Well, I originally wanted to be an actor and then I figured out that politics was show business for ugly people. It has a lot of the same kind of drama to it. I found it as interesting, but I never really wanted to be a candidate. In other words, I didn’t want to run for office. I thought about that very briefly, but I don’t have the skill set. I’m not a hail-fellow, someone who is well met – it would be very difficult to smile and talk to people where you were jump out of your skin and say, “I disagree with you.” I always preferred the behind the scenes strategic role. I’m interested in the strategy and science of politics. In other words, I’m a libertarian conservative.

A lot of people think, “Oh, you’re a conservative, therefore you believe in certain things.” That’s an unfair hodgepodge, as I said in my speech, I consider myself a conservative in the Goldwater mode. He was very much in favor of small government, less resolution, less regulation. He was an arch critic of the religious right and the effort to bring religion into politics; he opposed this, I oppose it. He was not a neocon. I think the neocons, the Clintons the Bushes, have disserved us by involving us in these multibillion dollar foreign wars. I can’t see what our national interest is.

You take Syria. Assad finances Hezbollah, he finances Hamas, he’s propped up by the Russians, the Russians oppress Christians, they oppress women, they oppress gays — nobody here is our friend. On the other side you have the Saudis, when is their next election? They oppress women too, they oppress Christians too, they oppress gays. Then you have a thousand ISIS offshoots, the largest one of which is ISIS. Nobody in this struggle is for democracy; nobody in this struggle supports human rights. Why would we spend a dollar of borrowed American money or a single drop of American blood to go to war over Syria?

I think Hillary Clinton had promised the military industrial complex the expansion of the proxy war in Syria, and I think Trump has a more realistic view in terms of reaching some kind of detente with the Russians. Detente is preferable, on the right terms of course, to thermonuclear war. I don’t think he has any illusions about Putin, he knows he’s a bad guy. He knows their system is a rotten corrupt system, but the alternative is war and death on a massive scale because of technology now available to us to kill people and Syria is not worth that.

Marisa: Let’s talk about other elections that you’ve participated in. Have you ever lost an election?

Roger: God, I have lost many elections.

Marisa: What is that like? Where did the strategy go wrong?

Roger: You have to point to one specific election, but what I would say is that you’ll never be prepared to win an election if you’ve never lost an election. Losing is a winning experience and you’re able to go back and see what you did right, what you think you did wrong. But recognize also that in a modern election, even though the mainstream media sometimes jumps to these conclusions, you can never point to any one thing. It’s the confluence of several important factors that dictate the outcome of an election. Perhaps I would have won more elections if I didn’t take on races that were more competitive, and in some cases – I wouldn’t say hopeless – but long shots.

I understand the Republican consultants who take “sure thing” incumbents in overwhelmingly Republican districts, they make a lot of money, but there’s no intellectual or strategic challenge. I tried to go into contests where I thought it the Republican or libertarian would be at a disadvantage. It’s trial and error. For every election I’ve lost there’s one that I’ve won. There are many that I’m very proud of because the odds seemed insurmountable but we overcame them anyway.

Marisa: Today is increasingly polarized. In elections there are clear bodies of people that are going to vote Republican no matter what, and a body of people that’s going to vote Democratic no matter what. Since the pool of people in the middle is shrinking, how do you strategize to win over the votes of the few that will tip the election one way or the other?

Roger: Well, first of all, you just described the barrier to forming a new party. I think that the American people are economically and fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. The problem is that neither party is a good fit for that. The Democrats are more of socially progressive than the Republicans, but they borrow and spend to oblivion. The Republicans are better on finances and defense, but they want to tell you what you can do in your bedroom. They want to tell you who you can marry, what you can smoke, what you should be eating, how big the soft drink that you’re drinking should be.

I always thought that if you had a party that reflected the best of both traditions, that was fiscally and economically conservative, but socially progressive, that’s where the majority is. The problem is that the rules for ballot access, the rules under which we nominate candidates, are written by the Republicans and the Democrats working together. What they don’t want above all is competition. The Presidential Commission on debates is not appointed by the president: it’s not a commission and it’s definitely not about debate.

If Gary Johnson and Jill Stein got on the ballot in enough states to theoretically get 270 electoral votes, they should have been in that debate. That should be the criteria, not some phony measurement of how you are doing in the polls because that is a vicious cycle. In other words, you can’t be in the debate because you’re not polling enough and you’re not polling enough because you can’t get in the debate. The criteria should be getting on the ballot, which is very difficult.

Just getting on the ballot requires a lot of manpower and the lawyers for the two parties are arguing against you, trying to get you thrown off on technicalities and so on. If you can get on the ballot in enough states to theoretically comprise 270 electoral votes, they should let you in the debate. I left the Republican Party to become a Libertarian and now I’m back. It was a great experience. Yes, I worked on Gary Johnson’s campaign for president, not this most recent one, but the one four years ago.

I was among those who urged him to embrace gay marriage, which I’ve always written in favor of, worked for, voted for, marched for, written editorials for. I was also, I think- I think most definitely – involved in his position on drug law reform and of course he meets the low taxation fiscal requirement. I’m very proud of that campaign. I think if he’d gotten into the debates, if people found out, “Wow, there’s a guy who wants to legalize and tax Marijuana. There’s a guy who will withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan tomorrow,” but never got a chance to say that.

Then I saw a poll just before the election that showed that 74% of the voters said, “I wish there was another choice between Obama and Romney.” Well, there was, they just didn’t know about it. The mainstream media wasn’t ready to tell them about it.

Marisa: How do you coach a candidate in 2017?

Roger: This is the first election that I have been involved in, in which the mainstream media really lost its grip in terms of controlling the narrative. It was not surprising to me that the vast majority of voters have come to distrust political institutions like Congress, politicians in general, career politicians, both parties and so on. But this is the first election in which that distrust has spread to the media. Where, in the day of Walter Cronkite, Walter said it, it was true, that was the gospel and there was no debate.

Now, I think people have a healthy skepticism about media, as well as political institutions, and I think that is a healthy thing because what it means, is that those people in the middle, they won’t vote party – they are not voting party. You’re absolutely right when you said, “If you are the Republican nominee-” let’s take this state just for an example. If you are a Republican nominee in New York State, you start with about 28% of the vote, maybe 30. If you are the Democrat, you start with maybe 35-38% of the vote. Doesn’t matter who the party nominates, they will start with that base.

Now, if you start as an independent candidate for governor, let’s say, and I tried that in this state, you start at zero. You have no base. I do find that the voters, that more and more voters no longer vote the party. They are starting to vote, the person, the issues and I think it’s because of the democratization of our media. The fact that they have more choices in what they read, what they see, what they hear and that is lending them to make, to have more choices politically. It’s healthy. The parties have been, in a certain sense, detrimental to our democracy.

Marisa: In the documentary about you on Netflix you said, “I think the character of the president of the United States is very much a legitimate issue,” regarding Bill Clinton back in the 90’s, but you seem to show a lack of interest in the character of our current president. Why the double standard?

Roger: Well, no, here’s the point I was trying to make: I was never concerned or interested in Bill Clinton’s infidelities or his indiscretions. That’s consensual sex. I don’t care. I just, I don’t care. The idea that you would impeach Bill Clinton for getting oral sex in the Oval office is stupidity. He was caught selling military secrets to the Chinese for campaign contributions, there’s a serious violation of law.

Even though I was a Republican at that time, I thought the impeachment of Clinton over Monica Lewinsky was stupidity. When I speak to the character of the candidate, I think violence against women, and I interviewed 27 women for my book on the Clintons, 27 individual women and they all told an incredibly similar story about their experience with Bill. This is no longer about indiscretion or infidelity, it’s about violence against women, it’s about rape and sexual assault.

As I said in my speech, then there is the law of Hillary, who we have first-hand evidence that she’s the one who manages the cover-up. She’s the one who silences Juanita Broaddrick and these other women using brutal tactics in some cases to do so. That’s what I was referring to. Is Donald Trump perfect? By no means, he is most definitely not perfect. Yet the charges of sexual assault against him, which I examined very carefully in my book, I just don’t think they are true.

Marisa: What do you think about all the dirt that came up during the election, especially the Access Hollywood tape? Those things lend themselves to believe that an individual could be seen as a predator to women or at the very least, doesn’t respect them.

Roger: I thought that the Access Hollywood thing was a severe negative to his campaign that could have led to his defeat. For about 24 hours, I was of the view, “Well, that’s that.” You can’t say those things and get elected. The fact that he did, tells me that people were so concerned about the situation in the country, that they were either willing to overlook it or take it with a grain of salt because it didn’t seem to stop him as I thought it might.

Now, there’s a difference between talk and actions. This is locker room talk, it was irresponsible but when I examined these charges by women who claimed that he had assaulted them, they couldn’t tell you where and when. They couldn’t tell you the circumstances, leading me to believe that none of that was true. Could I yet be proven wrong? I could be but I don’t think so.

Marisa: Let’s move on to your famous Twitter. Your Twitter is cluttered with tweets that people have labeled as racist, sexist, and profane. Do you think that you’re using your influence in a way that is positive for this country?

Roger: Well, as you could see, I reject the notion that I am any of those things. Yes, my Twitter feed is pungent and it’s provocative and there’s no doubt that sometimes in my attempt to be sarcastic, I have said things that I’ve regretted. I called Ronald Martin and Allan West and Ben Carson and Herman Cain, Negros. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have said it. I apologized for it; I wrote a column apologizing for that it.

I can see now why someone would read that and find it offensive. I wasn’t trying to be offensive, I was trying to be sarcastic. It’s not something I’ll do again, but also as I said, getting into a fight with one woman, does not make you a misogynist.

Marisa: I don’t think that’s the issue people are having with your tweets. Instead, individuals view you negatively because you speak negatively of women and their rights. In one that stuck out to me in particular, you called out a woman, saying that she was a singular reason not to give women the vote.

Roger: No, that may be, but I don’t recall it. I was being sarcastic. If I said that, I probably wasn’t that smart.

Marisa: Okay, I have it here. September 27th, 2011, you said, “Nancy Argenziano is the one woman argument as to why women shouldn’t have the vote.”

Roger: Yes, she is a State Senator who had voted in Florida, which was something that I objected violently to. Look I–

Marisa: Do you believe that women shouldn’t have the vote?

Roger: Of course not. I was attempting to be sarcastic in an attempt to attack a political foe. I have some 38,000 tweets, do I regret some of them? Yes, I do. Show me the person in life who has never made any errors. Show me the person who’s never said anything that they later regretted. I have said a few things that I regret but that again, I argue, does not make you a racist, a bigot, a misogynist.

Words are not as important as deeds. Whether it is drug law reforms in this state going back to 2003, or whether it is the gay marriage fight and the constitutional amendment in Florida, which I opposed, which we unfortunately lost by one heartbreaking point, one point. I think that my actions as a critic of the intolerant religious right and for a reform in many cases libertarian agenda, are more important than smart ass comments I may have made on Twitter at some point.

Marisa: Do you, however, take responsibility for the negative impact that these words have had? There are a lot of people that love and follow you and your tweets are validating the negative and hateful ideas that they have. You, as a leader, make them think it’s okay to comment on women’s breasts in an interview or to call her the “C word”?

Roger: I’m responsible for my own actions and the things I said. I’m not responsible for the reaction of others. Some like them, some hate them, some love me, some hate me, it just goes with the territory.

Marisa: But wouldn’t you argue that with a lot of power comes a lot of responsibility? One could argue that you should be using your power more wisely.

Roger: Do you think that I have a lot of power?

Marisa: Yes. I think that you have shaped a lot of presidential elections and I think that you have power because people give it to you.

Roger: I would like to think that I’ve used that power for reform ideals. For example, arguing that Gary Johnson, who was governor of New Mexico, did not support same-sex marriage, who vetoed it, would support it in his presidential election. To me, that action is worth a thousand stupid tweets.

Marisa: Okay. Is there anything you wouldn’t do to win an election?

Roger: Yes, I wouldn’t break the law.

Marisa: And you don’t acknowledge any validity to the Russian allegations?

Roger: I really don’t. I have yet to see any evidence. Again, it’s a two-part question. Did the Russians seek to interfere in our elections? There seems to be some evidence that they may have tried to do so, in what so far looks to me to be a pretty ham-handed and ineffective way, but nonetheless as I’ve said, we’ve interfered in their elections going back many cycles to their first election, in the election of Boris Yeltsin.

On the question of, did anyone in the Trump circle, Trump campaign, collude, coordinate, conspire with the Russians to elect Trump? I still believe the answer is no. I certainly didn’t. I said that under oath when I went to the House Intelligence Committee. I’ll presumably say it again if and when I go to the Senate and I know of no one else that did so. I don’t expect that there will be any prosecution along those lines because I don’t think anybody can find a crime.

Marisa: You had a mixed reaction from the students on campus today, do you understand the issues that the students have?

Roger: I understand that I am polarizing. Yes, I understand that.

Marisa: Do you understand why?

Roger: Sure, it’s a free country you can like me, you can hate me, you’ve got the right to do either. I showed up, a lesser man might not have shown up.

Marisa: You’ve been called a dirty trickster and many say that you toy with our political system and spread hatred. Are you aware of these negative impacts that your career has inflicted on the country?

Roger: The people who call me a dirty trickster are usually people that I have defeated. One man’s dirty trickster is another man’s freedom fighter; one man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation. That’s a title given to me by a partisan critic.

I also reject the idea that I have spread hatred. Look at the politicians I have worked for, Tom Kean New Jersey, Jack Kim of New York. These were pro civil rights, pro opportunity republicans. I have rejected those in the party who I think have promulgated hate. Those who think you should vote for or against a candidate based on whether they believe if the government should determine who you can love and marry, to me that’s divisive and I’ve opposed that all my life. I use that just as an example.

Marisa: What do you think your legacy will be in American Politics?

Roger: Well, I’m not anywhere near finished yet. There’s a presidential election in little over three years, and there’s another one after that.

Marisa: Are you intending to participate in those?

Roger: I’m definitely thinking ahead. In politics a year is a lifetime, and I know the president has a reelection committee, and as of today, I think he probably intends to run for reelection. But that’s over three years from now. We don’t know where our politics will be. But I have no intention of retiring anytime soon, so it’s too early to figure out what my legacy is going to be.

Marisa: Given that you’ve shaped a lot of presidential elections, a lot of American history, what’s your vision for America?

Roger: I would like us to have a growing vibrant economy that helps everybody. That it doesn’t just help a few billionaires at the top. I really believe that that’s achievable. I was one of the proponents for growth economics, I’m a great follower of Larry Kudlow. I do think we could have prosperity in the country that helps everybody. With that, comes substantial increase in government revenues from all that new economic activity, new jobs, that means new employers paying new taxes and so on.

I think that as long as we have a stagnant economy, we don’t have the money to address any of our problems. Whether it’s education, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s crime. Without a growing economy and revenues, you can’t address any of those things. Again, I’m a fiscal and economic conservative. I consider myself a social libertarian, that’s my vision for the country.

Yes, I want marijuana to be legal in all 50 states and I want people who need it for medicine as my father and my grand father did. When my father would come back from radiation treatments, you could smell burning flesh. They keep giving him Oxycontin and it was just making him sicker. It constipated him, it took away his appetite, he was just totally lethargic, he laid in bed looking at the ceiling all morning.

One of my cousins was the first one who recommended that I give my grandfather – and then later my father – marijuana, and I did so. And it was illegal and I would do it again, because it helped. He put weight back on, he got an appetite. He was dying, but it improved his situation. Yes, I think Jeff Session should cut the shit. I think the states rights should prevail here and I’m looking to the day when the federal government will legalize cannabis use in all 50 states.

Marisa: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me.

Roger: Thank you.

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